Nothing ruins a fabulous day for me more than entitlement.
I’m talking about the expectations placed on me as a transgender person that are never placed on my cisgender counterparts.
Take, for example, the number of times that cis folks have asked me, “Are you getting rid of…” Then, gesturing to my chest, they add, “those?” without batting an eye.
I’m not sure on what planet that’s an acceptable question to ask anyone, but it bothers me – endlessly – that so many people feel entitled to that information, so much so that they don’t consider my comfort level or privacy when they ask.
From time to time, I run into folks who – whether they’re “curious” about my existence or aren’t sure how to talk to me about trans issues – mistakenly believe that I exist as their real-life Caitlyn Jenner, a science experiment, a case study, or a source of entertainment.
Entitlement can surface in a whole slew of different ways.
It can be seemingly “innocent” questions about our bodies, as if we owe you private or intimate details about our transitions. It can be tokenizing us, sensationalizing our being transgender and not actually valuing or recognizing our personhood.
It can even be requests to change our appearance to make cisgender people more comfortable.
Ultimately, entitlement comes from the idea that transgender people exist for the entertainment, comfort, or curiosity of cisgender people.
And whether it’s intended or not, even the best allies can perpetuate this kind of attitude in their day-to-day interactions with trans folks.
So how can we break down entitlement and make the world a safer place for trans folks?
Well, to start, here are eight things trans people don’t owe you – and why these everyday examples of entitlement are so problematic.
1. Details About Their Body or Any Plans They Have for It
Whoa, whoa, whoa. My body? My business. Don’t ask me about what my plans are unless I’ve brought them up myself.
I can’t recall a single time back when I identified as cisgender that someone asked me, “Please describe in intimate detail what your genitals look like and what you hope they’ll look like in the future.”
Why are transgender people somehow fair game for invasive questions like these?
Just because I’m trans, that doesn’t mean I owe the world a detailed blueprint of what my medical transition is going to look like, assuming I even opt for a medical transition. That’s a personal question between me, my doctors, and those that I choose to share it with.
Trans folks are far more than their bodies and their transitions, and unnecessarily focusing on our bodies tells me that you see us as objects instead of people.
2. Their Birth Name or Any Details About Who They Were Prior to Transitioning
Translation: Please tell me about a time in your life that you had no intention of sharing – and give me private details about it, too!
Again, sensitive information that could be triggering or painful is not something a trans person owes you by virtue of being trans. Your curiosity does not trump their right to privacy, ever.
Questions like these bother me because the moment someone learns that I’m transgender, they treat my past like a scandalous secret that is somehow more interesting or valuable than the person that I’ve fought to become today.
I will share my past with you if I want to and when I’m ready.
Please focus on who I am in the present – I promise, the person I am now is much more interesting.
3. A Friendship or Relationship So That You Can Prove That You’re Open-Minded
I’m not going to be a pawn in some kind of social justice credibility game. So stop introducing me as your “transgender friend” and pulling a Vanna White when we meet someone new.
Real talk: You are not a better person, a better ally, or a better activist because you know or fuck a trans person.
This is not proof of how radical you are or evidence of how open-minded you are.
And if you ever get called out for transphobia and pull the “I can’t be transphobic, my best friend/my partner is trans” card, I will drop you so fast that you won’t know what hit you.
I’m not your token, and I’m definitely not your shield from criticism.
4. A Gender Studies 101 Education
I get that you want to learn more about trans people.
Gender identity, gender expression – gender is a vast and complex topic, and it’s fascinating, too! You might have a lot of questions, and who better to ask than someone you trust?
But think about it. Chances are, you are not the only friend that I have. I have hundreds of friends who are just as fascinated and have just as many questions as you.
The reality: Trans people are constantly bombarded with questions and expected to educate others by virtue of being trans.
And it gets tiresome to have to explain our lives and even our trauma repeatedly just so that cisgender people can “get an education.”
So before you demand the resources and energy of a trans person for your own personal benefit, why not seek out existing resources online? The transgender tag on Everyday Feminism is a great place to start.
This tells trans people that you not only want to learn, but that you respect their time.
5. A Sensational and Tragic Account of Their Life Story
My life is not an Oprah Winfrey special.
If you’re asking questions about my past because you want to hear a sad story, that tells me that you view me as entertainment before you view me as a person.
6. An Apology When Asking for Respect
“Your pronouns are so confusing. Can’t you just respect that I’m trying?”
“I get that this isn’t the name that you’re using, but don’t you see how hard this is for me?”
“Your grandparents don’t need this drama right now. Can’t you come out later?”
Transgender people should never be made to feel like their identity is an inconvenience or burden. They should never be guilted into apologizing for who they are or making their needs known.
Trans people do not owe you an apology for being honest about their identity. Trans people do not owe you an apology because their transness is unfamiliar and “difficult” to you. Trans people do not owe you an apology just for existing.
Being who we are in a world that still does not accept us is difficult enough (not to mention the incredible rates of violence and discrimination).
If you don’t have something supportive to say, please process your feelings on your own time.
7. Justification for Why or When They Are (Or Aren’t) Transitioning
Transition is about my comfort – not yours.
So asking me to explain why I’m making certain choices about my body, as if I have to defend them to you; asking me why I can’t wait for hormones or surgery until it’s a more convenient time for you; or pushing me to make decisions that will make you feel more at ease instead of supporting me are not okay.
These are gestures that tell me that you prioritize your happiness and comfort over mine.
Trans people should not have to transition in a way that makes everyone around them happy.
Their transitions (or lack thereof) should be guided by their own needs, their own desires, and what makes them feel best – not by cisgender people in their lives who just happen to have an inappropriate opinion on something so personal.
Trans people do not owe anyone a justification for their choices when it comes to their bodies and their (a)gender(s).
The truth of the matter is that while this may affect you, trans people are the ones who are most impacted by transitioning. And at the end of the day, they have to live with the choices that they make.
Those choices might impact you, but they aren’t about you.
Transgender people, just like anyone else, get to set boundaries in their lives, and those boundaries should be respected. The truth is, transgender people don’t owe you anything.
The problem with entitlement and the many ways that it surfaces is that it erases the humanity of trans people. It treats us like an object, a prop, a source of entertainment, or something to impose demands upon before we are ever fully recognized as autonomous human beings.
When you dehumanize trans people in this way, whether subtle or overt, you give the rest of the world permission to disrespect or even hurt us because we are seen as exploitable – something that people can use for their own purposes instead of actual human beings.
If you feel that you are owed something from a trans person – their body, their time, their decisions – it’s time to reflect. Toxic expectations do not exist in a vacuum. They feed into a culture that denies transgender people their agency and views them as inherently less-than.
This might seem overwhelming. You might be thinking, “Wow, can I interact with a trans person at all without seeming entitled? Am I doomed no matter what I do?”
What it boils down to is this: We want to be seen as whole people, just like anyone else.
So deep breaths. I promise we’re not fragile. Just treat us with respect, be open to learning from mistakes, and apologize when you make them. And, you know, don’t ask about our genitals. You really need to stop doing that.
Sam Dylan Finch is the Editorial Associate for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to his work at Everyday Feminism, he is also the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his hella queer and very awesome blog. You can learn more about him here and read his articles here. Follow him on Twitter @samdylanfinch.